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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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The right of appeal to superior tribunals has generally been considered an essential concomitant of inferior judicatories. When, from the paucity of the population or any other cause, the subjects of litigation are few, justice is usually administered by the first authority in the state, from whose award no appeal can lie. But when the multiplication of causes precludes the continuance of this practice, and one or more inferior courts take cognizance of the less important matters, the right of appeal to the superior tribunal is allowed, with increasing restrictions as, in the course of time, subjects of litigation multiply, and as the people become weaned from the notion that the administration of justice is the proper function of the chief civil magistrate.

In the desert Moses at first judged all causes himself; and when, finding his time and strength unequal to his duty, he, at the suggestion of Jethro, established a series of judicatories in a numerically ascending scale (Exodus 18:13-26) he arranged that cases of difficulty should be referred from the inferior to the superior tribunals, and in the last instance to himself. Although not distinctly stated, it appears from various circumstances that the clients had a right of appeal, similar to that which the courts had of reference, When the prospective distribution into towns, of the population which had hitherto remained in one compact body, made other arrangements necessary it was directed that there should be a similar reference of difficult cases to the metropolitan court or chief magistrate ('the judge that shall be in those days') for the time being (Deuteronomy 16:18; Deuteronomy 17:8-12). That there was a concurrent right of appeal, appears from the use Absalom made of the delay of justice, which arose from the great number of cases that came before the king his father (2 Samuel 15:2-4). These were doubtless appeal cases according to the above direction.

Of the later practice, before and after the time of Christ, we have some clearer knowledge from Josephus and the Talmudists. It seems that a man could carry his case by appeal through all the inferior courts to the Grand Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, whose decision was in the highest degree absolute and final. The Jews themselves trace the origin of these later usages up to the time of Moses: they were at all events based on early principles, and therefore reflect back some light upon the intimations respecting the right of appeal which we find in the sacred books.

The most remarkable case of appeal in the New Testament belongs to another class. It is the celebrated appeal of St. Paul from the tribunal of the Roman procurator Festus to that of the emperor; in consequence of which he was sent as a prisoner to Rome (Acts 25:10-11). Such an appeal having been once lodged, the governor had nothing more to do with the case: he could not even dismiss it, although he might be satisfied that the matter was frivolous, and not worth forwarding to Rome. Accordingly, when Paul was again heard by Festus and King Agrippa (merely to obtain materials for a report to the emperor), it was admitted that the apostle might, have been liberated if he had not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:32).

It may easily be seen that a right of appeal which, like this, involved a long and expensive journey, was by no means frequently resorted to. In lodging his appeal Paul exercised one of the high privileges of Roman citizenship which belonged to him by birth (Acts 22:28) [CITIZENSHIP]. The right of appeal connected with that privilege originated in the Valerian, Porcian, and Sempronian laws, by which it was enacted that if any magistrate should order flagellation or death to be inflicted upon a Roman citizen, the accused person might appeal to the judgment of the people. But what was originally the prerogative of the people had in Paul's time become that of the emperor, and appeal therefore was made to him. Hence Pliny mentions that he had sent to Rome some Christians, who were Roman citizens, and had appealed unto Caesar. This privilege could not be disallowed by any magistrate to any person whom the law entitled to it. Indeed, very heavy penalties were attached to any refusal to grant it, or to furnish the party with facilities for going to Rome.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Appeal'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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